God of Love and Peace

June 4, 2023 homily on Genesis 1:1-13, Matthew 28:16-20, and 2 Corinthians 13:11 by Pastor Galen

Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” – 2 Corinthians 13:11

Changing the World, One Email at a Time

When I was serving as a college campus minister at UMBC, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. And that was to have some of our alumni who were working in various fields and industries come back and share with the current students about the work they do on a daily basis. I wanted to inspire my students to dream about the ways they could change the world through their various fields of study, and so I chose alumni from a diversity of academic backgrounds who were working in a diversity of fields to share as part of a panel discussion. 

The problem was that even though these alumni worked in a variety of fields and industries ranging from scientific research to public policy and mental health, the work they described doing on a daily basis sounded surprisingly similar to one another! Many of them shared, for example, that they had gone into their particular field or industry to change the world, but now they spend a large percentage of their day sitting at a computer, reading and responding to emails! Not at all the inspirational image that I wanted them to paint for my students.

Of course, in many ways, I could relate, since I went into campus ministry because I wanted to share the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ, but often it felt like all I did was carry boxes and set up tables and chairs for events!

Whether you spend your day in an office, a factory, a lab, or at home, most likely there are a lot of tasks you do day in and day out that may seem monotonous or mundane. Often it’s difficult to see how the things we do on a daily basis contribute to the greater good. And yet, if we pull back and look at the bigger picture, we just might see that even in the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday life like folding the laundry, checking emails, and writing up reports, we can participate in the work of God’s Kingdom—bringing about peace and justice, shalom, in the world. 

In order to understand this connection, we have to go back to the beginning, to the story of Creation.

Disorder to Order

Genesis chapter 1 begins with: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And the next verse says that “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2 KJV).

We see here first of all that God has always existed. God has always been and always will be. Even before the earth was formed, God was present. This is why God says in Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” We can and should take comfort in the fact that God is always present with us, and always will be.

But we see here too that in the beginning, the earth had no form or shape. One translation says, “the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2 NRSV). But even there, God was present. But so what does God do with this chaotic situation? 

Interestingly enough, the first thing God does is to bring light to the darkness. Frequently we as people are inclined to try to hide or cover up a chaotic situation. We try to sweep injustice under the rug and pretend that it’s not there. But God begins by illuminating the darkness, shedding light on the chaotic situation that was the earth. That was day one (Gen. 1:3).

On day two, God separates the oceans from the sky (Gen. 1:7), bringing a sense of order where there was disorder. And on day three, God furthers that sense of order by separating the sea from the dry land (Gen. 1:10). And God causes plants to grow on the land, as a way of further establishing this sense of order.

And so God’s work during the first half of creation, even before creating living creatures,  was to bring light to the world and to bring order where there was disorder. Before creating any life, God brought order. And before working to create order, God created light that illuminated that disorder.

Promoting the Flourishing of All God’s Creatures

Then, in the second half of creation, God begins to fill those spaces that God created. Remember that on day one, God created light. Well, on day four, God creates the sun, moon, and stars to perpetuate that light. On the second day, God separated the sea from the sky. And now, on the fifth day, God creates birds and fish to fill those spaces. On the third day, God separated the sea from the dry land; and now on the sixth day, God creates animals and people to fill the land.

And so, even before God created living creatures, God spent a significant portion of time creating just the right types of spaces for God’s created beings to inhabit. Like expectant parents working to select just the right crib or paint colors for the nursery for their soon-coming child, or a good supervisor who selects just the right office furniture for their new employee, God wanted all of God’s created beings to have spaces that were safe for us, that were right for us, and that was conducive for all of God’s created beings to live.

Imagine if birds only had the land to live on, and never had the chance to fly! Imagine if sea creatures had to try to live their lives on land, or if we as people had to spend our whole lives trying to swim. But rather, God knew what each of God’s creatures would need, and God prepared beautifully ordered spaces for us so that we would have just the right environment where we could thrive. God spent time creating these beautifully ordered spaces even before creating living beings. 

What this means, then, is that in our daily work, when we work to create order out of chaos, when we strive to put things in the places where they are supposed to be, we are participating in God’s work of creating safe and beautiful spaces where God’s created beings can thrive. When we’re conscientious about putting away files in the right filing cabinet at the office, and when we answer emails in a timely and accurate fashion, we participate in God’s work of ordering the world. When we make our beds in the morning and wash and put the dishes away, we participate in God’s work of ordering the world. And when we work to create or maintain beautiful and safe places for people to live, work, or worship, we participate in God’s ongoing work of creation, bringing order amidst chaos, and supporting the flourishing of all God’s creatures.

Beautifully Ordered Spaces

Because, you see, the spaces we inhabit matter. Our mental and physical health is often affected by the places we live, work, or otherwise spend our time. And so part of our call to work for justice in the world involves starting right where we are located—advocating for better living and working conditions in our communities and workplaces, working to create safer places for children, teens, and adults to live, learn, and grow in our schools. Making sure that everyone feels welcome here in our church. When we do these things, we are participating in the work of God’s Kingdom, which is characterized in the Bible as a “Kingdom of…righteousness and peace and joy” (Romans 14:17).

I think it’s so beautiful that the Apostle Paul ends his 2nd letter to the Christians in Corinth by saying, “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). When we “put things in order” and work for peaceful resolutions to disagreements, we experience God’s peace, God’s “shalom.”

The Hebrew word shalom, often translated as “peace” is so much more than the absence of conflict. It can also be translated as “wholeness” or “prosperity.” It’s this idea that in order for there to be true peace, there must be justice and righteousness. To truly have peace, everyone must have all of their basic needs met. Everyone must have access to the type of environment they need in order to flourish. Where there is no justice, there is no peace.

Access to the Pond

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase that if you give someone a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach someone to fish you feed them for a lifetime. But author, pastor and Civil Rights advocate John Perkins, a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. who has spent his life ministering in rural Mississippi, says that if we really want someone to be able to fish for a lifetime, we have to make sure that they have access to the pond. Having the skills to fish is one thing, but it’s meaningless if they don’t have a place to fish. And so true peace, true flourishing, true wholeness, true shalom, involves not only creating safe and beautifully ordered spaces, but also ensuring that everyone has access to those spaces that they need in order to thrive.

Sometimes this involves shedding light on a chaotic situation. Rather than sweeping injustice under the rug, part of our role as followers of Christ, who are called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), is to illuminate injustice, to make it clear when things are not the way they ought to be so that those who are participating in or perpetuating that injustice have the opportunity to repent and turn away from their sin, and work to make things right. 

It Starts at Home

One of the many things I appreciate about my wife is that if I do something that she finds offensive or if I fail to contribute to my fair share of the household responsibilities, she will tell me. And not in a nagging way, but she will just let me know what she would like me to do. She doesn’t let it build up to the point of anger, but rather she addresses it right away, in the moment (or when the time is right), to give me an opportunity to correct it. Her honesty and openness and the respectful way she addresses conflict have gone a long way in helping us to live in peace as a family. 

The same is true for us at work, in our community organizations, and even here at church. It’s important for us to shed light on situations that are not the way they should be so that we can work to set things right. If we want to create the types of safe and peaceful environments where all God’s creatures can flourish, we have to create opportunities for people to share honestly about how they are feeling, so that we can work together for just and peaceful solutions. 

God of Love and Peace

When Jesus was getting ready to ascend into heaven, he commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). And he reminded us that he would be with us, even to the end of the age. 

Our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods are the very places God has sent us, the very places God has called us to make disciples. And so may we remember that everything we do can and should point people to Christ. In every email we send, every file we put away, every report we fill out, we have the opportunity to participate in God’s work of creating order where there is disorder, of creating safe and beautiful, and peaceful places for God’s creatures to live, work, and worship.

May we shed light on those situations that are unjust, and bring order where there is chaos, so that all can live in peace and flourish. And may the God of love and peace be with us. Amen.


5..28.23 Pentecost Sunday homily on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23 by Pastor Galen

Waiting for the Holy Spirit

It was the feast of Pentecost, and Jesus’s disciples were gathered together in the Upper Room. The same place where, 50 days prior, they had celebrated Passover and had their Last Supper with Jesus.  The same place where he’d washed their feet, the same place where he told them that one of them would betray him, the same place where, after his death and Resurrection, he had appeared to them and said “Peace be with you” and had shown them the scars in his hands and his side, and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

10 days before Pentecost, Jesus had ascended up to heaven after promising his disciples that he would send them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them and who would guide them into all truth. How exactly this was going to happen, and what it would be like when the Holy Spirit came, they had no idea, but Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. And so there the disciples sat, longing, waiting, hoping. The disciples numbered about 120 at that point. Men and women, young and old, I imagine families with young children, teenagers and young adults, drawn together by their mutual love and affection for Christ and the fact that Jesus had forever changed their lives. 

Prior to this, the Holy Spirit had rested upon people for a specific time and purpose. People like Moses and the 70 elders and Eldad and Medad in Numbers 11 were filled with the Holy Spirit for a particular season. But the Holy Spirit seemed to be given in limited supply, since Numbers 11 tells us that God “took some of the spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again” (Numbers 11:25). Prophets like Joel foretold a day when God’s Spirit would rest on all God’s people. Even Moses says,  “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29).


While Jesus’s disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, outside there were throngs of people gathered to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost. Pentecost was the anniversary of the day when God had given the law to the people through Moses at Mt. Sinai. Jewish people and converts to Judaism from all over the known world, from many different cultures and languages, would gather in Jerusalem every year for Passover. And many—particularly those who had come from quite some distance, some on a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Jerusalem, would stay the 50 days until Pentecost.

The throngs of people gathered to celebrate Pentecost had seemingly no awareness of the relatively small band of Jesus’s disciples gathered together in the Upper Room until all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, there came the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of fire appeared to rest on each and every person in the Upper Room, and they “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). 

The people outside were amazed and astounded because they heard the disciples speaking in their own native languages. Acts 2:7-12 says, Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 

And so the Apostle Peter goes out to explain, saying that what the disciples were experiencing had been predicted by the prophet Joel (in Joel 2:28), who said that in the last days, God would pour out the Spirit on all flesh, that sons and daughters would prophesy, and young and old alike would dream dreams and see visions. Peter proclaimed the way of salvation, urging all to repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that day 3,000 people were added to their number.

He Breathed on Them

Now, the Holy Spirit doesn’t always appear in such a fantastical way, with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, or with tongues of fire. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is given quietly, unobtrusively, as in John 20 when Jesus appeared to his disciples and said “Peace be with you” (John 20:21) and breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). There Jesus simply breathed upon them, and the evidence of the Spirit’s power in their lives is that they were empowered to forgive others. In other places in Scripture the Fruit of the Spirit is seen to produce such things aslove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)—perhaps a bit less exciting, but no less spectacular than tongues of fire and the ability to speak other languages.

The Miraculous and the Mundane

But we might wonder, if God’s spirit can come in ways that are more subdued and quiet, why did the Holy Spirit come on the Day of Pentecost in such a tangible and visible way? And what can we take away from these two accounts of the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit Does Not Discriminate

One reason, I believe the Holy Spirit came in such an outward, tangible, and visible way on the day of Pentecost was to squelch any notion that the Holy Spirit may only be given to one type of person. If there had been no outward sign or physical manifestation of God’s Spirit coming upon them, then it is extremely likely that the early disciples would have drawn certain lines around who they thought had received the Holy Spirit and who hadn’t. No doubt their own personal prejudices may have precluded them from believing that the Spirit had been given to women or to men, or to the young or to the old, or disciples from a certain background or station in life. 

But as it was, it was abundantly clear to all present thata tongue rested on each of them. [And] all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” There was no denying that day that the Holy Spirit had been given in equal distribution to each and every person in that room—women and men alike, from all ages, and stages and stations of life.

Throughout the history of the Church God’s Spirit has sometimes moved in similarly visible and tangible ways among groups of people who may otherwise have been written off or excluded. In those instances, God’s Spirit moved in such tangible ways that even those on the outside looking in could not deny that God’s Spirit was at work. I think, for example, of the Azusa Street revival that began in Los Angeles, California in 1906 and included people from various denominational and cultural backgrounds. During that revival movement walls were broken down, and deeply entrenched stereotypes and racial prejudices that Christians held towards one another were cast aside, since there was no denying the reality that God’s Spirit was moving among each and every one of them in a similar fashion, despite the diversity of their cultural and denominational backgrounds. 

God’s Spirit often moves, then, in visible and tangible ways in order to break down our assumptions and preconceived ideas of who God can and cannot work through. 

The Spirit Pushes in New Directions

Related to that, the Holy Spirit often works to push and expand the boundaries of the Church in new directions and among new groups of people. 

It was no coincidence that the early disciples were given the ability to speak in all sorts of different languages right at the moment when there were throngs of curious people who spoke many different languages right outside their door. It’s like someone being given the gift of healing and then immediately encountering a sick person, or having an overabundance of food and then encountering someone who is hungry.

It’s possible that the people would have understood enough Hebrew or Aramaic so that if Peter has explained what was happening to them in his own language they could have all eventually heard the message through a series of interpreters. But God chose to work in a miraculous way such that each and every person was able to hear the Good News about Jesus Christ and the mighty acts of God articulated to them in their heart language. And that was an incredible gift, because it allowed the message of the Gospel to go straight to their heart without them having to do a whole lot of mental gymnastics in order to try to wrap their minds around the message.

Similarly today, one of the ways the Holy Spirit works is through inspiring God’s people to proclaim the Gospel message in ways that those currently on the outside can hear and understand. This is why I love Christian musical artists who proclaim the Gospel using what might typically be considered “secular” musical genres. It’s why there are evangelists who are using TikTok to spread the Gospel message. It’s why we need more Christians to enter the industries of film and visual arts, and music and dance—because so many people in our culture and society who may never set foot inside the doors of a church consume hours and hours of media and social media every day. They need to hear the Gospel in their heart language. God’s Spirit empowers God’s people to go to the physical and digital and virtual spaces where people are hungry, and longing, and curious, and proclaim the Good News in ways that they can hear and receive. 

The Spirit Brings Lasting Transformation

And lastly, we see here in the accounts in both Acts and John that no matter how the Spirit comes, the Holy transforms. Whether the Holy Spirit comes in an outward, visible, tangible display of power as on the Day of Pentecost, or whether the Holy Spirit is experienced more as a gentle breath of God, once we are touched by the Holy Spirit we are never the same. The transformation may be gradual, and indeed takes place over the course of our lives, but no matter what, the eventual fruit of the Holy Spirit is that we become more loving, joyful, peace-filled people, who grow to be more patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. 

And so this morning, know that the Holy Spirit so often moves in ways and among people we least expect. May the Spirit push us out into new directions, inspiring us to proclaim the Gospel message in ways that those currently on the outside may hear and understand, so that they too can be drawn in and can receive the message with joy. May the Spirit break down the dividing walls between us, removing our prejudices and preconceived ideas, and may God’s spirit transform us to become more loving, joyful, kind, and peace-filled people, who proclaim the mighty acts of God through word and through deed.


Casting Your Cares

May 21, 2023 homily on Exodus 18:13-27 and 1 Peter 5:1-7 by Pastor Galen

Cast All Your Cares

Today we come to the end of our study of 1 Peter. Throughout our study of this letter, we have considered some of the similarities between what was going on when 1 Peter was written, and the times we are living in today. 

Like today, the recipients of this letter lived during a time when it was not popular to be a Christian. They experienced stigma for being followers of Christ and were subjected to rumors and misconceptions about the practice of their faith. But there were other accusations towards Christians that were based on truth—some based on the wrongdoings of high-profile church leaders who abused their power to hurt others, while other accusations were based on aspects of the Gospel that were considered scandalous in Roman society, such as the radically egalitarian nature of the early church, evidenced in the fact that women and men and people of every cultural background and status of society held positions of leadership and authority in the Church—something that the Romans feared would upend the social mores of the day.

But now as we come to the end of 1 Peter, we are reminded of another similarity, and that is that despite the egalitarian nature of the Gospel, there is a tendency for all of us, particularly those of us in leadership roles, to try to grasp or hold onto power, rather than using the authority we’ve been granted to empower others. When we cling to power for ourselves, we end up hurting both ourselves and others. 

And so Peter exhorts those in leadership positions to tend to those under your care, “not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2b-3), and he reminds us that Christ is our Chief Shepherd. And then Peter goes on to say, “All of you [leaders and members alike] must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5b-7).

The antidote, then, for grasping and clinging to power is to humble ourselves, remembering that Christ is our Good Shepherd, and casting all of our cares and concerns upon the Lord.

The truth is that when we cling to power and don’t cast our cares upon the Lord, it becomes a vicious downward spiral. Seeking and grasping for power and influence leads to anxiety, as we worry that our power or influence over others might slip away, and so we try all the harder to hold onto whatever shred of power we have, leading to even more fear and anxiety. Peter challenges us to humble ourselves, to clothe ourselves with humility, and to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, because God cares for us. This is something we need to do day in and day out. 

The Examen

One practice that can help in this is the Examen—an ancient Christian practice of taking a few moments at the end of your day to reflect on what gave you life that day, and what took life from you, and just simply holding that before the Lord. The other day one of my coworkers—who teaches spiritual disciples like this at the seminary where I work—emailed me at the end of the day and said that as she was reflecting back on her day she realized something she wished she had done differently in an interaction we had earlier that day. She apologized and said that she would try to do better in the future. Now the reality was that I really wasn’t bothered or concerned by our interaction that day, and I had no idea how she felt about it until she emailed me. But she clothed herself with humility and brought her concern before me and the Lord, and because of her diligence and humility, we had an opportunity to clear the air. What a difference it would make if each of us would take a few minutes at the end of each day to do likewise!

And so, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). 

The Example of Jethro and Moses

The story of Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18 provides a wonderful illustration of what it looks like to humble ourselves and to cast our cares and concerns upon God, believing that God cares for us.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt, and they are walking through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. Moses is carrying a lot of responsibilities for the people. He’s a prophet who speaks God’s words to the people. He is responsible for providing for the physical needs of the people, and indeed they blame him when they don’t have enough food to eat or water to drink. Moses is also a military leader, leading the people into battle against their enemies. And he is their defacto king, enforcing the laws that God had given to the people. And here in Exodus 18, we also see that Moses is the judge of the people, listening to their arguments from sunup to sundown, and deciding who is at fault. 

Moses’s father-in-law Jethro visits Moses and observes all the things that Moses is doing, and he stages a sort of intervention, telling Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” Exodus 18:17-18). He encourages Moses to set up a system of judges who can decide the lesser matters, freeing him up to teach the people God’s statutes and provide the higher level of leadership that the people need.

Now this is probably difficult for Moses to hear, but he accepts his father-in-law’s exhortation with grace and humility, acknowledging that he will eventually burn out if he keeps going at the pace he is going, and he humbles himself and follows his father-in-law’s advice to delegate some of his power and authority to others.

This is something that can be difficult for any of us, at any stage of our lives. We like to think that we can just keep going and going, that we don’t need anyone else to help us, and that we can do it all on our own. It’s humbling to acknowledge that we need help or to entrust some of our responsibilities to others. But it’s so needed and so necessary—not just for those of us in formal leadership roles, but also in our workplaces, our schools, our homes, and our families. 

And so I’ve asked my daughter Zachiah (age 17) to share a testimony that she shared the other night at Youth Group, about how God challenged her through this story of Jethro and Moses to entrust her cares to God and to trust others, and not to try to do it all on her own. 

Zachiah’s Testimony

Good morning everyone! This morning I’d love to provide an example of casting your cares upon Jesus, specifically by discussing a particular lesson and what it taught me. 

Several months ago, our youth group read the story of Jethro visiting Moses. By read, I really mean acted out, with scripts, on the stage. I’m fairly certain that, because I played Moses, I turned my hair into a beard – let’s just say that was pretty memorable. The story of Jethro and Moses feels like a “newer” one for me, because I was never actually taught it in church- I only came across it as I was reading Exodus, and thought little of it. I think some of its themes – leadership, and responsibility – are deemed to be only for adults and not kids. 

But while acting it out – I mean analyzing it – I was able to understand a lot more of the dynamics within the passage – and how it’s relevant to today. It’s not just an “adult story”, it’s an example of someone dealing with a lot to do, but wants to accomplish it all on his own. It’s one we call relate to, from the kid at the dinner table who wants to serve themself, to preteen or teen working in a school production or working at their first job. Really, at any point in our life, we can fall into the trap of believing that we are the one person who has to do it all. 

In Exodus Chapter 18, Moses does so much for the Israelites that he literally works from sunup to sundown, helping the people with their various jobs. Even on a day when his father-in-law is visiting! It would be rude if Moses wasn’t doing God’s work. But Jethro helps Moses to realize that he doesn’t have to do it all. Listen, this man is amazing – kind and supportive. One of the first things he does is simply listen to Moses, as he explains everything that happened in Egypt and everything since – including the “hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” Verse 8 

It’s not just Moses being vulnerable – showing not just everything that went well, but also what didn’t – Jethro is showing support. And it’s by listening to him and later watching him work so hard for the people of Israel that Jethro realizes – there’s a better way. 

Moses can delegate his tasks. Specifically, Jethro advises him to teach other God-fearing people His laws, in order to help all the Israelites. 

Thus, according to Jethro, Moses’ load would be lightened, because he shared it with others. Just take a second to imagine that – your load is lightened. Doesn’t that sound appealing to all?

In this passage, Moses learns that God provides us with people we can trust in our lives to help us. When we feel stressed, it’s a sign we’re not letting them – or God – help us. 

If God himself works with the Holy Spirit and Jesus…Then who are we to think that we can do everything by ourselves? This lesson stood out to me because it’s one that I struggle with. 

I’ve been known to do plenty of things by myself, even when I didn’t have to – such as sweeping and mopping the huge stage in my school’s proscenium theater. I could have let someone else know that I was going to start and that they could join me, and I didn’t. So reading the passage made me realize that I needed to adjust my approach. Especially because I had a big job coming up – working in the Expressions Gala. It’s a huge fundraiser featuring the best performances by each of the art departments – dancers, actors, singers, musicians, film people, visual artists, etc. 

It’s a lot of pressure, and I was assigned the role of the assistant stage manager. I knew I wanted to be as kind as Jethro and as responsible a leader as Moses. And I failed. At least at first. When we first started rehearsals, there were plenty of times when I wasn’t nearly as communicative as I should have been with my stage crew. Rather than delegate tasks to them, I tried to do things myself. But of course, I couldn’t set up an entire orchestral piece by myself. I tried delegating, learning to teach and guide my crew about all the different tasks they’d undertake, from setting up things to ‘striking’ or putting them away. 

And I did my best to practice kindness. I heard their concerns, did my best to compliment and praise them, and quite literally held their hand when things got stressful. Over time, I gained their trust and respect. They came to me with questions, because they knew I could answer them, they came to me with problems and I worked with them to fix them – from broken mic stands to missing instruments. Things I wouldn’t have noticed if not for them letting me know. Most of all, when I made mistakes, (plenty of them) I apologized. One of my favorite moments ever was when they advocated for me when I received some not-so-great feedback from the head of our department.

In short, don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Just like the people in your life who help you because they care about you – God wants to help you because he cares about you!

God Cares for You

So this morning, no matter our station in life, may we not try to grasp or hold on to power, but instead may we humble ourselves, trusting God and others to help us through whatever it is that we are facing. May we experience God as our Good Shepherd, watching over us and protecting us. And may we cast our cares and concerns upon the Lord, remembering that God does indeed care for us.  


Always Be Ready

May 14, 2023 homily on 1 Peter 3:15-16a and Acts 17:22-31 by Pastor Galen

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  -1 Peter 3:15-16a

Drive-By Evangelism

Evangelism might as well be a four-letter word in our society. Hearing it makes us think of people like the street preacher who periodically showed up on the college campus where I worked and spent all day yelling at the college students, trying to convince them that they were sinful people who needed a Savior. (Unfortunately, he rarely made it to the good news that salvation is possible through Jesus Christ!)

For me, I’m reminded of the time when my wife and I were subject to “drive-by evangelism.” One day when we lived in Southwest Baltimore we were out for a walk, and a black SUV with tinted windows pulled up next to us. The passenger window rolled down, an arm extended towards us, and a Gospel tract was placed firmly in our hands. Before we even knew what had happened, the SUV drove off. I’m pretty sure the SUV had never even come to a complete stop.

1st Peter chapter 3 verse 15 is frequently used as justification for this sort of evangelism, or as a proof text for why we as Christians should constantly be looking to drop truth bombs on people. After all, Peter says that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. A former student of mine understood this to mean that we are supposed to bring up God or talk about the Gospel in every conversation we have, whether it’s with the barista at our favorite coffee shop or the stranger we meet on the bus.

But interestingly enough, I’ve rarely heard the second part of this sentence—the first half of verse 16—where Peter says that we are to do it “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:16a).

So what does Peter mean when he says that we should always be ready to talk about the hope that is within us? And how can we talk about our faith in Christ with gentleness and reverence? 

This morning we’re going to look a little bit at the context of this passage in 1 Peter 3, then we’ll look at the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. And then I’ll share a few brief modern-day examples that will hopefully inspire us to dream into new ways that we can share the hope that is within us.

Love, Respect, and Equality

As we’ve learned so far in our study of 1 Peter, this letter was written to Gentile Christians, many of whom were born after the time of Christ. As converts to Christianity, they regularly faced ridicule from friends and family members who thought they had gone off the deep end for turning away from the worship of the Greco-Roman deities. This would have had ramifications for every aspect of their lives, including their occupations, as business associates frequently cut them off because Christians were seen as narrowminded on the one hand for believing in Christ, and too progressive on the other hand because of the egalitarian nature of their worship and community.

Earlier in chapter 3, Peter addresses another situation that was causing tension for many of the new Christians, and that is that some of them had spouses who weren’t believers who insisted on the very hierarchical Roman household structure. This was particularly challenging for Christian women who experienced equality with men at church, but who were often treated as second-class citizens in their own homes. In that particular situation, Peter encouraged wives to acquiesce to their husband’s authority, hoping that by the “purity and respect” (1 Peter 3:2) of their conduct they might win their husbands over to faith in Christ. But Peter goes on to emphasize for the Christian men who were assumed to have authority in their households by secular Roman society that women and men are “joint heirs of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7 NRSV), or, as it says in the Message paraphrase, “in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.” (1 Peter 3:7 MSG).

And then Peter switches to a different scenario, talking about what we should do if and when we are being persecuted for righteousness’s sake, saying that we should be ready to defend ourselves and talk about the hope that is within us “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16a). 

So the common theme here is that we should seek to win people over to Christ by the gentleness and reverence that we show them. It’s about how our actions speak louder than words, and how rather than constantly seeking to interject the Gospel into every conversation, we should seek to win others over with our actions.

Paul in the Marketplace

But Peter does say that if and when we have an opportunity to share the hope that is within us, we should be ready. And so to see an example of this we turn to Acts 17, where Paul shares the hope that is within him, but he does so with gentleness and reverence.

Now, Paul usually caused quite a stir wherever he went, because typically in whatever city he visited he would go first of all to the Jewish synagogue and try to convince the Jewish people in that city that Jesus was and is the Messiah. (Not something I would recommend today!) Often this did not go over well, and in the case of Thessalonica Paul and his friend Silas literally caused a riot in the city because of their evangelistic methodology. But in Athens, Paul took a bit of a different tack. There, in addition to going to the synagogue, he also went to the marketplace, where Greek philosophers sat around all day and debated the latest philosophical theories, and after a while, they turned to Paul and asked him to present his “new teaching,” which he did by talking with them about the “unknown God” that they already worshipped. 

Paul said that he had been walking around Athens, and noticed that the people of Athens had idols devoted to every god they could imagine. For fear that they may have inadvertently omitted one, they even had an altar dedicated to an “unknown god.” Paul says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23), and he proceeds to tell them about the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that lives and breathes. And he even quotes one of their own poets, saying “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we, too, are his offspring’” (Acts 17:28). 

And so here Paul was ready to talk about the hope that was within him. His eyes were open to see the places where there might be an opportunity to connect the dots for people and tap into the spiritual hunger and longing that they had. But he waited until given the opportunity, and when it was granted to him, he shared with gentleness and reverence. Paul met the Athenians right where they were. Rather than debating the finer points of Christian doctrine, he referenced ideas and even poetry that was familiar to them, sharing the hope that was within him using gentleness and reverence. 

Some scoffed at his message, but a small group of individuals joined him. Rick Rennder says, “The seed of God’s Word became deeply rooted in their hearts, and they kept the fire burning in Athens long after Paul’s departure.”

Ellen and the Outreach Committee

When I was serving as a campus minister at UMBC, we were always looking for ways to connect with people who weren’t Christians. Every so often we would try to do outreach events, but they were generally poorly attended, and we never saw any fruit from our efforts. The leader in our fellowship and I would sit around and try to come up with new ideas to connect with people outside of our group, but we just didn’t know what would connect with people.

But one year we had a new outreach coordinator who had a novel idea. Instead of asking other members and leaders in our Christian fellowship for ideas about how to connect with those outside of the fellowship, she decided to go to her friends who weren’t members of our group who had no faith background and she asked them what sorts of events they would attend. And then she took it a step further and asked them to help us coordinate the types of events that they would want to attend. Needless to say, this approach worked far better than our previous approach! 

One of Ellen’s friends pointed out that as a Christian fellowship, we were always serving in the community, but that a lot of students who weren’t part of any religious groups didn’t know how to connect with organizations where they could serve. And so Ellen’s friend suggested we host a “service fair” where different off-campus organizations could come and set up a table and share about opportunities for college students to serve in the community. The idea also surfaced that during the event various students—some who were part of our fellowship and some who weren’t—could share why they serve. This approach was a gentle and reverent way to share the hope that is within us and ended up drawing more people in than the more heavy-handed evangelistic approach we had tried previously. 

The Community Pastor Hiring Committee

I’ve also seen something like this play out on a congregational level at the little United Methodist church in the neighborhood where I grew up. Over the years a lot of the members had moved out of the city, and the church began to have less of a connection to the surrounding community. Acknowledging the challenges they faced in connecting to the community, they decided to hire someone to serve in the role of a Community Pastor, to minister to those in the neighborhood who didn’t currently attend church.

This was a great idea in and of itself, but the implementation was even more brilliant because guess who the congregation invited to be on the hiring committee for this community pastor? Not church leaders or even church members, but residents from the neighborhood who didn’t attend their church! They invited community residents to interview and select their new community pastor. This was a gentle and reverent way to reach the community, that provided an opportunity for many people who hear about the hope that is within us.

The Curiosity Approach

For me, I’ve found that one of the most gentle and reverent ways I can share about the hope that is within me is by asking people about their lives, their priorities, and what is important to them. People often love to talk about themselves, and by encouraging people to share what is important to them, I can often discover places of longing, or even spiritual hunger. Sometimes when I meet someone and they learn that I’m a pastor, they’re not sure what to say. So I ask them if they are part of a faith community, or have any sort of religious or spiritual background. Even if they’re not currently part of a faith community, they often have memories—sometimes fond, sometimes not, about growing up in a particular faith tradition. And occasionally this provides the opportunity for me to share my own journey, and why my faith is important to me.


So this morning, may we receive Peter’s encouragement to always be ready to share the hope that is within us. May we dream into new ways that we can do this together as a congregation, perhaps even soliciting the input of those who are not yet a part of our congregation. And whatever we do, may we do it with gentleness and reverence, in our hearts sanctifying Christ as Lord.


Living Stones

May 7th, 2023 homily on 1 Peter 2:2-10 by Pastor Galen

An Underdog Story

If 1 Peter chapter 2 were ever made into a film I think it would be placed in the category of  “classic heart-warming and inspirational underdog dramas.” We’re all familiar with movies about underdog teams in sports, right? Classic films like Bad News Bears, Rudy, Field of Dreams, Mighty Ducks, and the list could go on and on. Stories about teams of misfits who would have been rejected by any other team. Athletes who had every strike against them, but somehow they band together and they put in tons of hard work, and they end up rallying to become the state champions or win some other prestigious title. And usually, it’s the least likely member of the team – the shortest kid, or the one girl on a team of boys, or the player with the least experience who makes the game-winning catch or shot and rallies the team to victory. 

Here in 1 Peter, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of misfits who have experienced rejection in many areas of their lives. They’re a hodgepodge group, made up of people from many different backgrounds and ages and stations in life. As followers of Christ, many of them were rejected by friends and family members and business associates, who probably thought they had lost their minds for converting to Christianity and refusing to participate in the cults of the Greco-Roman gods.

I think of my coworker Dr. Pat, who is a medical doctor who had not attended church for many years, but in her early 40s started attending church again, and even enrolled in a theological studies program in order to reconnect with her faith, and her coworkers at the time asked her if she had gotten a frontal lobotomy! (I guess that’s medical speak for “Are you crazy?”)

On the other hand, since the recipients of Peter’s letter were Gentiles (not ethnically Jewish, like Jesus’s original disciples), they had been told that they were not part of God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, and so according to the Jewish understanding of the law they were outsiders and foreigners. 

If the recipients of this letter had tried to visit the temple in Jerusalem, as Gentiles they would not have been allowed to go into the temple any further than the outer courts, which is where all the money-changing would have taken place, and where animals were sacrificed. They could have only stepped foot in the outer courts, where they would have been allowed to spend their money (at an exorbitant exchange rate) to buy sacrifices, but they would not have been allowed into the Court of the Women (reserved only for Jewish men and women), let alone into the area of the temple inside of that that was reserved only for Jewish men. They would have been 3 courts removed from the Court of the Priests, which is where the sacrifices took place. And they would never in their lives have been allowed to dream of entering the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was believed to dwell, since the only person who could ever enter that space was the High Priest, who had to be a Jewish male from a certain tribe, and even he could only go in once a year. 

(Imagine coming to church, and not even being allowed to set foot on the porch, let alone step inside! Imagine being met with a sign saying that, while you can’t come inside to pray and worship, you can feel free to leave your offering at the door!

And so the people that Peter is writing to have been rejected on both sides – by the religious community they grew up with, and they’ve been led to believe that they don’t fully belong in their new family of faith either. 

From Excluded to Included

And so Peter writes this letter in part to counter that narrative. And I love this, because we might expect Peter to say something like, “I think you all should be allowed, but I’m going to have to do a little more theological study and research on whether or not Gentiles should be allowed to worship God and be included in the household of faith.”

But Peter is not at all wishy-washy on this matter. He is adamant and certain that, as our brother Bill is fond of saying, “The Gospel says all, and all means all!”

And so Peter doesn’t just say that everyone should be allowed to enter the temple; rather, he says that as followers of Christ, we ARE the Tabernacle – the dwelling place of God! Or more precisely he says, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). 

Do you see why I say this could be categorized as a classic underdog story? The team of rejects and misfits, formerly excluded and left out of the temple worship, who can’t even bring their own sacrifices and offerings into the temple but are forced to leave them outside the gate, are now being built into the temple, the very dwelling place of God! 

And the other term that Peter uses here, “royal priesthood,” was the same term used to describe what the nation of Israel was to aspire to be. In Exodus 19:5-6 God told the Israelites,  “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 

So God had called the Israelites to become this nation of Holy Priests, but of course, they consistently fell short of the call to obey. But here Peter is saying that in Christ, God is taking this hodgepodge group of misfits–followers of Christ from every nation and background and gender and identity, and is forming us into the dwelling place of God, to become a holy priesthood, that we may “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Spiritual Sacrifices

Now we should not think that by saying “spiritual sacrifices” Peter is talking about some sort of abstract mystical action that has no basis in reality. Rather, in the book of Hebrews we find the exhortation, “Through [Christ], then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16). So the “spiritual sacrifices” Peter is talking about here are the praises of our lips — the songs we sing and the prayers we pray when we come together and worship — and spiritual sacrifices include our work of justice and our acts of service. In other words, as we say here in the United Methodist Church, our “prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.”

And Peter says, not only can we now offer our sacrifices directly to God, but he goes on to say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). 

Isn’t that amazing? We’ve gone from being rejects, ostracized, outcasts, and excluded from the temple, to now being formed into the temple, the very dwelling place of God! And rather than being outcasts, excluded from entering the inner courts of the temple, we are a kingdom of priests, offering the sacrifices of our praise and acts of service, through Jesus Christ. No longer do we need another human to be our intermediary, because Jesus himself is both our High Priest, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

Jesus: The Cornerstone

Peter, quoting Psalm 118:22, says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus is the “secret weapon,” the ultimate misfit who was rejected at every turn, yet he is the one who makes all of this possible through his atoning sacrifice on the cross. 

In speaking of Jesus as the stone the builders rejected, we have here an image of stone masons preparing to build a temple, and they come across a stone that just doesn’t fit like the rest, so they toss it aside, thinking that it will never be useful to them. But then when they’re getting ready to build the foundation for the building they realize they need a stone of just that exact size and shape to lay as the cornerstone for the building, to make sure that all the other walls are lined up correctly. 

And this is indeed who Jesus is to us–the cornerstone, the one we should build and orient our lives and our families and our church and community around. Jesus is the core, the essence of our faith, and everything we do revolves around him or flows out of what Jesus has done for us. It’s because of Jesus that we have been welcomed into the household of faith, and it’s because of Jesus that we work to ensure that all are welcomed and fully included in the life and ministry of the church. 

Being Built

In closing, I’d like to leave us with what I hope are a few practical tips and suggestions for how we live and work together as a community that is being “built into a spiritual house” of God. Because you see, even though Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and in so doing defeated sin and death and hell and the grave, the story is far from over. We are still very much a work in progress. If this were a classic underdog sports film, we haven’t even made it to the state championships yet. We know that because of Christ we will be victorious and that someday Jesus will return to make everything right. But as of right now, the story is far from over, we have not yet arrived, and all is not the way it should be. 

And so we are still at that point in the story where we need to band together and put in the hard work, and practice and train and ask God for the strength to endure. And we will experience failures and setbacks along the way, and that can be discouraging. And so what can we learn from those classic underdog films, and how can 1 Peter 2 reframe our thinking as we strive to work together as a community?

#1 is to picture ourselves as a team. When we come together as the church, none of us should be spectators. Remember that Sunday morning worship is just one small aspect of what it means to be the church. Sunday morning is in many ways a pep rally, where we come together to encourage one another. But the real ministry is what happens throughout the week, when we love and serve our neighbors, and families and coworkers, as we work to bring about justice and order and in the world, as we offer to God the sacrifices of our very lives.

#2 is that each and every one of us is valuable. Just like every stone of this building is important (indeed we would experience a very cold draft in the winter if even one of the stones of this building were missing!), in the same way, we all play a vital and important role in the life of this congregation. So never feel that your gifts are not valuable enough, or that your prayers or participation don’t matter, because they do! So, let someone know if you won’t be here on a Sunday morning, or if you’re not feeling well, or if you’re going to be traveling so that we can pray for you, and catch you up on what you missed!

#3 We need to constantly be looking for practical ways to encourage one another and make sure everyone is included and knows they would be welcome here. Maybe you’re good at writing notes, or sending encouraging emails and text messages. Maybe you’re good at hospitality, or welcoming. Maybe you have a natural gift for seeing when others might be left out, or marginalized or excluded. If so, speak up! Speak up on behalf of those who might be marginalized or excluded, or in other ways work to make sure that they have a voice and are included. 

#4 Most importantly, remember that Jesus is our cornerstone. Our lives, and our ministries, and the work we do should flow out of our relationship with him. Rather than seeking to model ourselves after other people, or comparing ourselves to those around us, we need to constantly be looking to Jesus. He is the standard by which we seek to live our lives, he is the reason we are here. We must never lose sight of Christ and his mission. 

May we know that even now, Jesus is right here with us. May we experience him rallying us on to victory, and may we pray and work for the Kingdom, knowing that in the end, through Christ we will win.